Just as Tink started up the stairs, stepping slowly and carefully as he balanced a bowl and a cup of coffee to keep them from sloshing, I appeared around the corner. I paused, watched and debated silently whether to speak.
“It’s not important,” the internal dialogue began.
“But it is,” another voice insisted. “You know what that bowl means. It’s a treasure. He has no idea and he would want to know.” One of the loveliest things about my husband is that he deeply cares about the people who have gone before in my life and how those people shaped who I am and how I think.
I bit my lip, then began carefully. It’s part of being newly married, I have learned. Bit by bit, you unveil and reveal the things that one holds dear or those that are disdained.
“What’s in that bowl?” I asked. “Please be very careful with it.”
He stopped and looked quizzical. He is smart enough that he knew it was an unusual question. Intuitively, with a warm sensitivity in his voice, he asked quietly, “Why?”
I took a beat. Sometimes my sentimentality is too much, I suppose. But I have come to reason that it is more than sentimentality. It is a reverence to a past that holds me hostage and whispers insistently words like, “That bowl represents who you are. Don’t ever shame yourself by forgetting that.”
“That was Mama and Daddy’s favorite bowl. Daddy always used it, then when he died, it became Mama’s.” I smiled slightly. “It was the bowl they used for buttermilk and bread.”
I feel it isn’t an overreach to say that my husband never knew anyone who poured buttermilk into a bowl then crumbled freshly made cornbread in it and proceeded to eat it like soup. It was, without question, Daddy’s favorite meal. He’d choose it over a good sirloin. Many times, he would come in from a long, physically hard day and say, “I’ll just have milk and bread.”
Mama would bake a cake of cornbread if she hadn’t already, prepare it, then serve it in that ivory bowl on a Coca-Cola tray. She would carry the tray to the den where Daddy had settled into a recliner and hand it to him.
Tink nodded. He understood. Of course, he wouldn’t have thought anything of it when he chose the bowl from the cupboard. It is old and undistinguished looking, except for the small chip on the top edge. A slight, dark crack runs from top to bottom. I have no idea from where it first came, but it certainly looks like something that my Appalachian grandparents would have owned. I know for certain only this: If family history was depicted by porcelain or clay, that bowl would be the portrait of my people. Simple, durable, plain and steadfast.
It’s not just the bowl that paints the picture of who we are: It’s what the bowl so often contained.
“Sometimes, my ancestors subsisted only on cornbread and milk,” I explained quietly. “It filled their bellies when there was nothin’ more.”
Mama and Daddy were raised on simple food like that and as they grew into the years that passed, they stayed simple and rooted to the core of what the past had taught. They never forgot the place and time from which they came. I don’t intend to forget either.
A few minutes later, Tink brought back the bowl, washed it carefully and gingerly replaced it its abode. He respects such things, and for that, greater love springs in my heart for him. At a garage sale, that bowl would bring no more than a nickel or a dime, bought by someone who would use it for dog food or fertilizer or such.
But from me, you couldn’t buy it for a million dollars. Seriously. It’s a family portrait.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin’.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.